Friday, July 12, 2013

Madagascar battling worst locust plague since 1950s

Mark Tran in the "globaldevelopment" blog at the Guardian (UK): Madagascar is in a race against time to raise enough money to tackle its worst plague of locusts since the 1950s. Locusts have already infested over half of the island's cultivated land and pastures, causing the loss of 630,000 tonnes of rice, corresponding to 25% of food consumption.

At least 1.5m hectares (3.7m acres) could be infested by locusts in two-thirds of the country by September, warns the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Findings from a damage assessment indicate that rice and maize crop losses due to locusts in the mid- and south-western parts of Madagascar vary, on average, from 40% to 70%, reaching up to 100% in some plots.

Madagascar's agriculture ministry declared a national disaster in November. The food security and livelihoods of 13 million people are at stake, about 60% of the island's population. Around 9 million people depend directly on agriculture for food and income.

"We don't have enough funds for pesticide, helicopters and training," said Alexandre Huynh, the FAO's representative in Madagascar. "What is extremely costly is to run helicopters [needed to spray pesticides]. We have to start in September, and we have two to three months to prepare. We need $22.4m [£15.1m] but we are quite short of that. Discussions are going on with donors."

The FAO has been issuing warnings since August last year, calling for financial support. José Graziano da Silva, its director general, said prevention and early action are key: "If we don't act now, the plague could last years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. This could very well be a last window of opportunity to avert an extended crisis."...

A 1936 shot of locusts devouring a tree. Not in Madagascar

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